Following the psychedelic rock of the 60s, the 70s kicked off with a homo-eroticized bend on rock music that was dubbed “glam rock”, led by the likes of David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. Writer/director Todd Haynes’s film, Velvet Goldmine, is his bizarre tribute to an incredibly wild period of musical history that obviously helped him find himself as a teen. Border-lining musical territory, the film puts its soundtrack front and center, with the sexual experimentation and gay culture that it grew from authentically recreated around it with spectacular detail. Though it is thoroughly engaging and appropriately hallucinatory, the film’s Orson Welles inspired story structure and fluctuating tonality is irritatingly cumbersome.
Ten years after the falsified death of Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers playing a Bowie inspired character), Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale), a former teenage glam rocker turned adult journalist, has been assigned to write an investigative piece on what happened to Slade following the fabled incident. The film then shifts gears, going back in time to the beginnings of Slade’s music career through performances, business deals, and the occasional sexual experience. His overtly sexual, over the top bravado makes him a gender bending super star among British gay youth. Across the pond, an American frontman named Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor playing a character that blends Iggy Pop and Lou Reed into one) is pushing the boundaries of on-stage sexual freedom. The two were meant to be together, and thanks to Slade’s new found power, he brings his new friend to Britain to join forces. The whirlwind of creativity, ridiculousness, and betrayal that follows is bewildering, and Stuart is left to put all the pieces back together, and not just for his news story.
Haynes’s creation at times seems a bit schizophrenic, blindly moving from surrealist promo video performances to dramatic sequences to future interviews and back to live performances. It never feels completely off the rails, but it doesn’t exactly flow perfectly either. What the film does extremely well is recreate the sense of freedom and self ownership of that period, even if many personalities of that time were completely manufactured representations of absurdity. Without some context as to historical actuality, the film doesn’t hold much weight, but once you know that a huge majority of the film was pieced together from actual quotes and facts from the musicians it pays tribute to, it all seems quite enlightening. Not only that, but nearly all of the music in the film came from that period, but was recreated by an incredible group of musicians, both authentic glam rockers (like members of The Stooges and Roxy Music) and modern musicians (like members of Radiohead, Sonic Youth, and Mudhoney). Adding the fact that many of the songs were actually sung by Meyers and McGregor gives the film just another level of authenticity.
The Lionsgate and Miramax have again put together a solid Blu-ray package with this film. Its HD image is packed with a constant rainbow of colors that really shine with great detail and reasonable contrast. Occasionally the image does appear a bit soft. This is partially due to the look of the film, but not completely. The DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack is absolutely fantastic. As mentioned, the fine tuned track listing saturates the film, and it is recreated here with solid bass, jangling trebles and sex-laden vocals that feel authentic in live settings, and smooth with as obvious overlapped material. The disc itself is packaged in a standard Blu-ray case.
Commentary Track with Todd Haynes and Producer Christine Vachon
The disc’s only enlightening extra is this lone commentary track. Luckily, it is one of the most interesting and detailed I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. Haynes possesses an amazing amount of information on the production and the endless references he inserted into the film, going so far as to directly quote Bowie in multiple instances to expand the vision of the film. It’s a truly interesting listen.
Though this trailer doesn’t exactly portray the surrealism that is woven into the film, it does give a good indication of the time period it represents, while giving you just a taste of the top notch soundtrack.
Interpretations of music history have kind of become Haynes’s thing (he also wrote and directed Superstar and I’m Not There), but with Velvet Goldmine he struck a few sour notes. His narrative structure inhibited an emotionally thorough attachment to the characters, but thanks to its outstanding soundtrack and a trio of rock-solid performances from its leads, the film is still a solid depiction of a time where glitter and gold was in, and hearing hard rock aliens on the radio was almost commonplace.